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Larsson puts glory over goals

Henrik Larsson will not mind waiting for his 200th Celtic FC goal if they lift the UEFA Cup.

By Roddy Forsyth

He is a FIFA World Cup bronze medallist and a former ESM Golden Shoe winner but if he leaves Seville with a UEFA Cup winner's medal, Henrik Larsson will rate the achievement the greatest of his playing career.

Feyenoord memory
Certainly, he had no notion of such a prospect when he moved to Scotland from the Netherlands in 1997. "I just wanted to get away from Feyenoord," said the 31-year-old Swedish international striker, who finds it hard to repress a shudder when he thinks of his time in Dutch football. Unable to command a first-team place at the Feijenoord stadium, Larsson was also unable to leave until he was prised loose by Wim Jansen, who steered Celtic FC to their first Scottish championship in ten years and who still has fond recollections of his time in Glasgow.

Jansen support
"We keep in touch and I talk to him a lot," Larsson said. "He really wants Celtic to win this final and he believes we can do it. I've played in European quarter-finals and semi-finals before but now I've gone one better. I think this has to be the biggest game of my career. I was in the Swedish team which made third place in the 1994 World Cup finals but this is a final so I have to say that it's bigger."

Goal milestone
It could also provide the prolific Larsson with another landmark in a notable career. In his six years at Celtic he has scored 199 goals - but he will not care if he fails to net No200, so long as Celtic return to Scotland with the trophy. "It's such an achievement to have got this far, no doubt about it when you look at the teams we have beaten. As for me having 199 goals - well, I'll settle for a win and take the 200th goal somewhere else."

Consistent scorer
FC Porto coach José Mourinho knows all about Larsson, as well he might because the Swede is Celtic's top scorer in the tournament with nine goals and has found the net at every stage, except in the fourth round against VfB Stuttgart - but only because he was sidelined in both games because of a broken jaw.

Work hard
"For me the high was scoring against Boavista [FC] in Portugal because it took us to the final. We played well at home in the [UEFA] Champions League last season but not so well away. We have made progress, though. Against Boavista we had to work very hard because they had so many men behind the ball but we got there in the end and then there were 15 minutes left in which we had to defend very well.

'Very difficult'
"From the little I have seen of Porto this season they like to go forward and when we played them in the Champions League [in 2001/02] we had two quite open games but whatever happens in Seville it will be very difficult and we are certainly not favourites going into this match. But we have nothing to prove now except to ourselves."

Many conquests
He added: "We've played Blackburn Rovers [FC], [RC] Celta [de] Vigo], Stuttgart, Liverpool [FC] and Boavista and beaten all of them. If there are still any doubters out there, good luck to them."